Thursday, April 28, 2011

Duke of Wellington

Some months ago a Jewish overseas visitor called on me seeking information on the birth place of the Duke of Wellington which he believed was in Athy.  Apparently he had visited Apsley House in London, the last residence of Napoleon’s conqueror and had found references there to Wellington’s birth place as Athy, Co. Kildare.  Understandably I was intrigued, such was my visitor’s insistence as to the correctness of his information, despite my claims to the contrary.

I have previously come across several references to Wellington’s birth place which were given as Trim Co. Meath, Athy Co. Kildare, Athboy Co. Meath and Grafton Street Dublin.  Descended as he was from the Wellesleys who had settled in Ireland in the 13th century, any of the places mentioned could have been Wellington’s place of birth as the family had connections with the Fitzgeralds, the Dunsanys, the Colleys and many more Anglo Norman families of the Pale.  I have previously researched the issue as best I could and concluded that there was no evidence for believing Athy to be Wellington’s birth place. 

My visitor prompted me to look at the matter again and so on a recent visit to London I visited Apsley House where Wellington lived for many years.  To my disappointment I found no trace of any reference to Athy and wondered what my Jewish visitor had seen or read to prompt his fruitless journey to Athy.  Despite this disappointment I continued to research the issue and I found that in a letter to the London Times on 3rd June 1926 a Mr. Stanhope Kennedy made a claim which gave some credence to Athy as Wellington’s place of birth.  He claimed that when completing the 1851 Census Form the then 82 year old Duke gave his place of birth as ‘in Ireland - believed Athy’.  Unfortunately the Census Forms for 1851 were destroyed in 1913 and so there is nothing to corrorborate Mr. Kennedy’s claim.

Of perhaps greater persuasion is the Dublin newspapers of 1769 which in early May of that year announced the birth of a son to the Duchess of Mornington in Merrion Street, Dublin.  Merrion Street, now Merrion Square, was the location of Mornington House, the home of Lord Mornington who had been born Henry Colley, a member of the County Kildare family.  His son Arthur was destined to be the future Duke of Wellington.  Certainly there were strong Kildare connections through the Colley family but none such as to definitely decide the issue of the birthplace of the man who would lead the allied armies against Napoleon’s armies.

Some years ago the Meath Heritage Centre published the booklet, ‘Wellington – his Irish connections’ in which the birth place of Wellington was stated to be ‘shrouded in mystery’.  No less than ten locations were listed as possible birth places including Athy, four locations in Dublin, Dangan Castle, Co. Meath as well as three other locations in that county.

Wellington attended school in Trim and Dunshaughlin before continuing his education in England.  He was later a member of Trim Corporation and became a Member of Parliament for Trim at 21 years of age.  His links with Ireland continued throughout his career and included a short period as Chief Secretary of Ireland and a marriage to Kitty Packenham from Tullynally Castle just outside Castlepollard in County Westmeath.  He supported Catholic Emancipation and that Act was passed during his term as Prime Minister despite the opposition of the King of England.  Wellington’s part in the passing of the Catholic Emancipation in 1829 lead to a duel between himself and another peer who opposed the measure. 

Wellington was a friend to Ireland and despite his oft repeated saying ‘because a man is born in a stable does not make him a horse’ he remained a friend so throughout his life.  Regarded as one of the greatest military leaders of all time Wellington, the victor over Napoleon at Waterloo, cannot on the available evidence be claimed for Athy.

Last week three well known residents of Athy passed away.  Kitty O’Brien, Nicholas Cahill and Noel Wright were highly respected and well regarded members of our local community.  Their passing is a sad loss to their family and friends and for the wider community represents a further unravelling of the ties of friendship which bind us all. 

My apologies to the readers who were mislead by last week’s announcement of the Patrick Moran lecture.  It should have read Wednesday 27th April.  The latest edition to the Taaffe family was born recently to my daughter Orla who lives in England.  Mollie, a red head, is my 4th grandchild and my 4th granddaughter which is quite an about turn for a man who came from a family of five brothers and whose father’s family also consisted of five sons and no daughters.  At least red hair is a Taaffe characteristic!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Queen Elizabeth's visit to Ireland

The visit to Ireland of Queen Elizabeth will, I believe, be welcomed by most of the people in this part of the island of Ireland.  Her itinerary will include a visit to the Garden of Remembrance and to Croke Park.  Both venues resonate with memories of our recent history, being locations associated with events which were part of the drive for Irish nationhood.

It was in the grassed area beside the Rotunda Hospital that the insurgents who surrendered on Saturday, 29th April 1916 were corralled overnight.  Elizabeth O’Farrell who carried Pearse’s message to General Lowe of the British Army wrote of seeing “about 300 or 400 volunteers.....lying on the little plot of ground ...where they had spent the night in the cold and damp”.  The treatment they received from the British soldiers was perhaps no worse than they subsequently received from the natives of Dublin. When the men who had surrendered in obedience to Pearse’s Order were marched along Thomas Street, an angry mob started to throw rotten fruit and vegetables at them.

Attitudes changed with the execution of the leaders of the 1916 Rising in Kilmainham Jail and the 50th Anniversary of the Rising saw the opening of the Garden of Remembrance behind the Rotunda Hospital.  The garden is dedicated to the memory of those who gave their lives for the cause of Irish freedom and Queen Elizabeth in visiting the garden will be paying her respects to those men and women. 

Perhaps of even greater symbolism will be her visit to Croke Park, scene of the brutal slaughter by Black and  Tans of twelve innocent persons on Sunday, 21st November 1920.  If the Garden of Remembrance visit is an acknowledgement of the bravery of those who came out to fight for what appeared to be a hopeless cause in 1916,  the Croke Park visit can been seen as an acknowledgement of the reprehensible actions of many of the Black and Tans who terrorised Irish people during the latter stages of the War of Independence.

Sunday, 21st November 1920 was the day on which Michael Collins planned to have twenty one British intelligent officers executed.  Irish Volunteers swooped on various addresses throughout the city of Dublin where the intelligence officers were known to reside.  The early morning raids resulted in the killing of fourteen British agents and the wounding of another four in circumstances which any right thinking person would abhor.  Later that day Black and Tan reprisals saw the shooting of Peadar Clancy, Dick McKee and Conor Clune, three men who had been held prisoner in Dublin Castle.  Later that same afternoon the Black and Tans arrived at Croke Park where a football match was being played between Tipperary and Dublin in aid of the Irish Volunteers Fund.  The Tans shot into the crowd killing twelve spectators and Michael Hogan, one of the Tipperary players.  Another sixty spectators were wounded.   

The actions of the Black and Tans in Ireland were condemned by Crozier, the Commander of the British forces in Ireland as well as by some members of the British House of Commons.  However, Bloody Sunday 1920 saw the Irish Volunteers match the Tans for the ferocity of their actions with the execution of twelve intelligence officers early that Sunday morning.  One of those involved in the Bloody Sunday executions was Patrick Moran from County Roscommon who lived and worked in Athy for some years prior to moving to Dublin.  There he joined the Irish Volunteers and served under Eamon de Valera in Jacob’s factory during the 1916 Rising.  Imprisoned afterwards in Knutsford and Frongoch, he was released in July 1916 and continued his involvement with the Volunteers.  Moran was one of the men chosen by Collins to carry out the execution of British intelligence officers on the 21st November.  His involvement was not known until recently and was referred to in May Moran’s recently published book “Executed for Ireland – The Patrick Moran Story”. 
On Thursday, 27th April, May Moran will give an illustrated talk on Patrick Moran in the Community Arts Centre, Woodstock Street at 8.00 p.m.  Admission is free for this talk which should prove interesting to Athy folk, given that Patrick Moran while in Athy played a prominent part in the local Football Club, the local Dramatic Society and the Catholic Young Mens Society. 

Queen Elizabeth is unlikely to make any speeches at either the Garden of Remembrance or at Croke Park, the expectation being that she will do so at a State Banquet in Dublin Castle.  However, her presence at these two venues will be seen as an acknowledgement of the legitimacy of the aspirations of the Irish Volunteers and an acceptance that the domination of the Irish people by her predecessors subjects was a wrong yet to be corrected.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Genealogy and Local History / Michael Territt

The emergence of local history and family history as interesting and compelling sources of study is one of the noteworthy features of the last twenty years or so.  In that time local history societies have sprung up throughout Ireland, each of them confident in the belief that all history is local.  Local in the sense that history is about the man in the field, the woman in the house or in the workplace, who in their comings and goings interact with their community and so help create the living canvass which the historian is called upon to sketch.

It is the people of the local community that interest the local historian.  It is their deeds, their mistakes, their joys and their sorrows which the historian chronicles so as to give a voice to the present and a printed record to the future.

I was prompted to think on these matters when I read an email received some days ago from Wagga Wagga, Australia.  My correspondent, whom I have never met or previously known, asked me to help him in tracing past family links with Athy which started in 1846 and lasted for 30 years or more.

Andrew Sanders and Rachel Purcell married in Dublin in 1845 or thereabouts and arrived in Athy one year later.  Nine Sanders children were born in Athy between 1846 and 1861 and I am told all were baptised in the local St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church.  Andrew Sanders died on 8th March 1887 in the Athy Workhouse and the only other details I have indicate that several of his issue married locally in St. Michael’s Church.

What a pity that the census records prior to 1901 were destroyed as they contained quite an extraordinary amount of material for researching family history.  In the absence of that primary source material those seeking to compile their family histories must have recourse to the Births, Deaths and Marriage Registers compiled by the various churches in Ireland.  The task of checking through these registers is not an easy one and it is sometimes rendered even more difficult than it should be by the reluctance of some Church authorities to facilitate family research. 

As for the Sanders family I have not been able to find any record of a gravestone or grave memorial in St. Michael’s Cemetery.  This does not necessarily mean that no member of the Sanders family is buried there.  It was not always possible for families in the 19th century to undertake the expense of marking the last resting place of a family member and the death of Arthur Sanders in the local workhouse might tend to support the belief that such was the case with the extended Sanders family.  Can anyone help my Australian correspondent with any information on the Sanders family?

Of course the query from Wagga Wagga came via computer, as did another contact, this time from a Dublin man who had read a piece I had written quite some time ago on Michael Territt of Athy.  Michael who was from Kirwan’s Lane was just 18 years of age when he died of wounds in France some weeks after the Easter Rising of 1916.  Michael, like his older brother John, had enlisted in the Dublin Fusiliers at the start of World War I.  My Dublin based correspondent had acquired the death plaque of Michael Territt and he offered to sell it to me.  It is now on my desk as I write this Eye on the Past showing a small hole drilled in it by a previous owner.  That it was a treasured memento of a young lost life is obvious from the worn state of the shiny plaque.  Clearly it was polished regularly, so much so that the name has been worn down.  The polish which escaped through the drilled hole and lies congealed on the back of the plaque confirms, if confirmation was needed, that someone, somewhere, at sometime in the past lavished care and attention on this reminder of a young life which breathed its last in a foreign country.

If local history means anything it must accord to men such as 18 year old Michael Territt of Mount Hawkins, a place in the record of our community’s past.  He never reached beyond the beginnings of manhood, unlike Andrew Sanders who at 70 years of age breathed his last in the local Workhouse.

Sanders and Territt, Territt and Sanders, names to conjure with, names forgotten for so long and yet names which have been resurrected by 21st century technology.  The internet, email and all the gadgetry of today brings us closer to others outside our local communities and helps us to fill in the missing pieces of the story of those men and women who once walked the streets of our ancient town.  Local history is for all of us a source of pride and a source of fascination.  The Patrick Moran lecture in the Arts Centre on Wednesday, 27th April at 8.00 p.m. which I mentioned last week will I am sure prove this to be true.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Ireland's Census 1813 - to date

On Sunday last every householder or the adult member of every household in the country completed a Census Form as part of the 2011 Census of Ireland.  The 24 page document included a host of questions which will keep statisticians and analysts busy for some time compiling statistical information on topics as diverse as the nation’s daily travelling arrangements and our educational standards.

It’s a far cry from the first census of the island of Ireland which was commenced on 1st May 1813.  That census was not completed by March 1815 and as a result was abandoned.  The first completed Irish census was in 1821 and every 10 years since then a census has been taken of the Irish population.

Civil and religious authorities have always been anxious to calculate the numbers of their subjects and we can go back as far as 1660 to find the first attempt to do this in Ireland on a national basis.  Sir William Petty who had arrived in this country as part of Oliver Cromwell’s army was appointed Surveyor General in 1652 and as such undertook what came to be known as the Down Survey.  This was a mapped survey of lands forfeited following the 1641 Rebellion and was used by Petty to give what was understandably a very rough estimate of the Irish population.  He would later compile population estimates based on Poll Tax Returns for 1660 and they were published by the Irish Manuscripts Commission in the 1930s under the title ‘Census of Ireland 1659’ edited by Seamus Pender.  Poll taxes were introduced following the Cromwellian campaign and provided for every adult over 15 years of age to pay a tax which varied from 2 shillings to 8 pounds, depending on one’s status.

Later population calculations were based on hearth tax Returns.  This tax, amounting to 2 shillings, was imposed on every hearth, fireplace or chimney and returns were made on a parish basis.  The civil authorities used these hearth tax returns to compile population figures and like the earlier calculations based on poll tax returns the results are now considered unreliable.

A religious census was carried out in 1731 by parish ministers to determine the number of Catholics, Church of England and other religious groupings in each parish.  Organised at diocesan level the exercise was not very successful and was repeated 13 years later with enumeration this time the responsibility of the hearth tax collectors.  The resulting returns were used to compile population estimates which however were never deemed to be other than approximations. 

The first official census on the island of Britain was in 1801 but Ireland was not included despite the earlier passing of the Act of Union.  Ireland was similarly excluded from the 1811 Census and the first Irish census commenced in 1813 was never completed.  Decennial censuses have been conducted in Ireland since 1821 but the accuracy of the earlier censuses have been called into question.  Enumerators who conducted the 1831 census were paid according to the numbers counted and understandably the suspicion arose that overzealous enumerators were less than honest in making returns.  By the time the 1841 census was taken local police were employed and the census form that year was changed dramatically to include questions relating to housing, education and other matters. 

Unfortunately many of the census returns for the 19th century were lost when the Four Courts was destroyed by fire in 1922, while other returns were destroyed by government order.  The 1901 and 1911 census returns were recently made available on the internet in what proved to be a very popular move, indeed so popular that I noted a very recent mention of the possibility of making the 1921 census returns available to the public in the near future.  If this is done it would be a break with the long established tradition that census returns are not released for public scrutiny for 100 years.  Nevertheless it would be welcomed by everyone, especially those interested in family history.

The census of 1911 showed Roscommon born Patrick Moran working and residing in Stan Glynn’s public house at 42 Duke Street, Athy.  Moran would later move to Dublin where he joined the Irish Volunteers and was part of the Jacob’s Factory Garrison under Eamon de Valera during the 1916 Rising.  He was on active duty on Bloody Sunday when British intelligence officers were shot.  Moran was arrested and was executed in Kilmainham Jail on 14th March 1921.  His body was disinterred and re-buried in Glasnevin on 14th October 2001 with others including Frank Flood and Kevin Barry.  Patrick Moran will be the subject of a lecture in the local Arts Centre in Woodstock Street on Thursday, 27th April.